Potential New York City UAV Restrictions

On Wednesday, two New York City Councilmen proposed bills that would amend city ordinances regarding the use of UAV’s within the city.

Council Member Daniel Garodnick proposed a bill which would ban the use of UAV’s, except by police or one with an express authorization from the FAA.  Presumably this would exclude those using UAV’s for recreational purposes under the Model Aircraft guidance and express authorizations are hard to come by.  It would also limit the use by police to situations where they have a search warrant that identifies the time and location at which the UAV can be used to gather evidence.  Council Member Paul Vallone proposed a bill that is facially less extensive, but poses great risk to users.  It would ban the use of UAVs “within one-quarter mile of any open-air assembly, school, hospital or house of worship” (I have to guess that covers most of New York City), at night, if “weather conditions would impair the operator’s ability to do so safely,” and under various other circumstances.

These competing bills have not yet passed, but successful passage would bring New York City into a small group of municipalities that have passed bans.  These cities include Syracuse, NY; Charlottesville, VA; and St. Bonifatius, MN; with Berkeley, CA considering one as well.

The FAA has historically been the federal agency responsibly for governing the National Airspace, so it is uncertain whether these ordinances would survive a Supremacy Clause challenge.  Regardless, there are more traditional avenues local authorities can pursue against unsafe UAV users.  An Ohio man was charged with “disorderly conduct” and “misconduct at an emergency” for flying his UAV while a rescue helicopter was attending to an injured patient.  The charges were dropped, but only after he spent over $8,000 and attended a safety class.

Drones also pose personal safety concerns.  TGI Fridays recently received bad press after a photographer covering its “Mistletoe drone” was injured by the blades. Users are subject to traditional tort actions such as negligence, invasion of privacy, and trespass; should they use their UAV in those improper manners.

I said I am pro-UAV, and I am.  But these stories illustrate some of the hazards that abound in the UAV world:  local ordinances, traditional criminal prosecution, and civil tort liability.  And don’t forget the FAA, especially if you are trying to use your drone commercially! Please use your new UAV safely, it isn’t your everyday toy.

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